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travel emergency kit
Posted by on April 19, 2016

What to Pack in a Travel Emergency Kit

As a flight attendant, I stay in a lot of hotels. Every time I hear about an earthquake or another natural disaster, I think about what I would need in a travel emergency kit if I was away from home when disaster hit. The majority of my overnight trips are to California, where there is a 97 percent chance of a magnitude 7 or larger occurring over the next 30 years, according to USGS (United States Geology Survey).  I like to be prepared, so here is what I pack in my travel emergency kit. (I have not always packed all of these items, but plan from now on to bring everything listed except the MRE’s (meals ready to eat), which are very heavy. I will start adding a few more energy bars to my travel bag, however.)

I’m sure you are like me and most of the population in thinking a major disaster is unlikely to happen to you. But even though these incidents don’t happen regularly, it never hurts to be prepared. I posted  the idea of packing an earthquake kit on my Instagram page, and fellow travel blogger Leah from Kid Bucket List said, “Wow! I’ve never done this or even thought of doing it. Should I?” Maybe you’re wondering the same thing. My response: If you’re in a disaster you’ll wish you had packed it, and if not, the most you’ll regret is the weight of your bags.” Actually, with the exception of spare batteries, water, and food, all of these items can be extremely lightweight.

A friend of mine, Molly Randles (photographer at Molly Randles Photography), was in Haiti on a mission trip on January 12, 2010,  when the 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti, killing more than 160,000 people. I asked her for her input on what she recommends packing in case of catastrophic event like this. I showed her this picture of my emergency kit and asked what she would recommend adding. She responded that I had covered all the items she would recommend and stated, “My headlamp saved my life!! That became most valuable item. I will pack at least two next time I go. I had two with me during the earthquake, and was able to give one to a doctor. My only regret was I didn’t have more!”

Travel Emergency Kit Headlamp

Photo Courtesy of Molly Randles- Molly Randles Photography

When I asked Molly what she would say to those who believed such a catastrophic event could never happen to them, she replied, “I had never been in a natural disaster in my life, and will never again believe it could never happen to me! I will always travel with an emergency kit from now on.”

So what should you pack? Here are the items I recommend:


Travel Emergency Kit Contents

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Aid and Protection

These items are all really lightweight and don’t take up much space at all in your luggage. I am now going to have them in my luggage every time I travel.


travel emergency kit

  • Spare Batteries
  • Water Purification Tablets
  • Printed list of emergency and family contacts-not pictured
  • Whistle
  • Utility Knife-not pictured (This is something I don’t pack as a flight attendant, but if you are checking your bags you could bring one—knives are not allowed by TSA in carry on luggage. If you are staying for a week or so in any area, it may be worth buying one at your location.)

Comfort Items

  • Tissues
  • Baby Wipes
  • Chewing Gum
  • Bubbles -Even when I’m not traveling with my kids I always have a small tube of bubbles with me. Imagine how this could come in handy to cheer a frightened child in an emergency situation. Or even help an adult who might be hyperventilating or just need a distraction.
  • Backpack—My flight attendant uniform code doesn’t include a backpack, so when I’m traveling for work I pack a small backpack in my luggage for creating a grab-and-go emergency pack. I just switch the items into the backpack once I check into my hotel room. When traveling with the kids, I always use a backpack. So once in the hotel or lodging I just swap out the travel items for the emergency items so they are always ready. It is very useful to have a chest strap on the backpack to help evenly distribute the weight.

  • Starbucks VIA (Okay, this is obviously not a necessity and if you’re in a situation where water is scarce you really won’t be thinking about coffee. But I figured it weighs next to nothing and if there was some reason I had to rush from the hotel (like because of a fire) but still had access to water, etc., I would be really happy to some good coffee. So I added a few packets of Starbucks VIA instant coffee to my earthquake kit. Better safe than sorry. 😉

Additional Items

  • Purse
  • Passport (at least if outside of your home country)
  • Room Key
  • Light Sweater
  • Lightweight Shirt and Pants
  • Spare Contacts/Contact Case and Solution
  • Glasses
  • Sunglasses

The above items I would pack in my emergency travel kit when staying by myself in a hotel.  If I was traveling with my kids, there would be additional things to pack:

For the Kids

I would actually pack a second backpack in order to be prepared for them. Hat, clothes, water, emergency blankets, ponchos, and food bars would be important to pack for each child. Also I would want to add a backup of any comfort item for your child. For my daughter Ella (at age 8) I would pack a small plush toy, and for my son John (at age 3) I would pack his monkey blanket lovey and a pacifier. I would be sure to add children’s pain reliever, noise canceling ear muffs for Ella, who can be sensitive to loud noises, and at least 8 diapers if my child was still in diapers. With my kids I would also throw in this emergency tube tent. I should probably add that for my own emergency kit as well.

I really like the idea of ID bracelets, like this RoadID (not an affiliate link).  When Ella was four years old we got her one. We got the plastic band type and printed her name plus each parent’s name and phone number. When riding his bicycle husband uses the interactive one.  You register your information and then emergency personnel can access the information in case you are incapacitated. I think it’s a great idea for kids so that emergency information is accessible if they are separated from you.

I’m writing this post in April, which is Autism Awareness Month, so it got me thinking about tips for emergency preparedness when traveling with a child who has autism. I asked Margalit Francus, from Austic Globetrotting, what she does to prepare for emergencies in the hotel when traveling with her autistic son. She gave some great tips which actually are good to follow each and every time you are in a hotel with your children, whether or not they have special needs:

“After putting my bags down I take my son and show him the nearest exit and then we count how many doors to the left or right the exit is so that in case of a fire with all the smoke we can figure out where the exit is. I always put a business card of the hotel in my son’s pocket so he can tell people where he is staying if he gets lost.” –Margalit Francus, Autistic Globetrotting


What to do in an Earthquake

Fifty percent of the United States’ population is said to be at moderate risk of a damaging earthquake, according to this article. It’s good to familiarize yourself with the hotel’s recommendations on what to do in case of an earthquake. I don’t know why, but until a few years ago, when I finally read the information on the back of a hotel room door, I thought that in an earthquake you should get out of the hotel. Not so! It is recommended that you stay in your room, under a door frame if possible, until the quake ends. Be prepared for aftershocks and don’t leave the room unless there is a hotel announcement telling you to do so. Of course avoid the elevators, which may lose power in an earthquake. Only take the stairs but again, don’t leave the room unless directed by hotel management.


So now that you’ve read my recommendations, and the reason I think it’s important to have a Travel Emergency Kit, what do you think? Do you pack a travel kit like this for emergencies? Would you add any additional items? Do you think I’ve gone overboard? I’d love to hear from you. Let me know in the comments below or on our Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram pages. Maybe I’ll add your recommendation to this post!

Travel Emergency Kit